As true ‘90s kids, my brother and I were “Reading Rainbow” junkies, which is probably where I first saw “The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.” Last week I retrieved this favorite picture book from the basement, remembering how proud the little red lighthouse was of its place on the rocky banks of the Hudson River in New York City. Its flashing light warned nearby boats in the dark, and its clanging bell kept them safe in any stormy fog.
“What would the boats do without me?” the little red lighthouse thought.*
This little light of mine
Not only are we in the middle of a pandemic and an extremely divisive presidential election season, but there have been superstorms, wildfires, violent protests and constant unease about what the rest of this year might hold. At first it seemed easier to just drown out all the media noise by watching Netflix; now, even Netflix itself is a lightning rod of controversy.
As church kids, most of us sang, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” countless times. My favorite part was always, “Hide it under a bushel — NO!” We yelled it as loud as we could.
In the middle of all the hard and heavy in our world right now, “this little light of mine” feels smaller than it ever has. Our little lights seem insufficient for making even a dent in the darkness around us. What’s the point? Why try to get involved in making a difference when there seems to be no hope of changing this dark reality?
The right light for the job
One day the little red lighthouse watched workers begin digging nearby. They dug and dug, then strung cables across the river. He didn’t understand what was happening, but soon a great gray bridge towered over him, with a light that shone brighter and farther than his ever would. The poor little red lighthouse began to feel…unnecessary. Insufficient. Pointless. Why bother shining his light when the great gray bridge shined so much brighter?
Then a heavy storm came, and fog blanketed the river. The little red lighthouse watched as a small tugboat, looking in vain for the lighthouse’s flash, crashed on the rocks.
“Little brother, where is your light?” the great gray bridge called down to the little red lighthouse.
“Your light was so bright that I thought mine was needed no more,” our little friend replied.
The giant bridge explained that his light was for airplanes, but boats couldn’t see it in the thick fog. Only the lighthouse could warn the ships on the river.
“Quick, let your light shine again,” said the bridge. Soon the little red lighthouse was flashing his light again, warning the boats to safety.
5 ways we can shine our lights today
If, like the little red lighthouse, our lights have a purpose, what is it? What can we do? How can we shine our lights today? Here are a few ideas.
Greet others cheerfully.
I was going to say “smile,” but my state still has a mask order, and smiles are hard to see when you’re wearing a mask. This may seem like a teeny-tiny thing, and it is. But a cashier who was already chewed out for policies out of her control will appreciate your kindness. A coworker weighed down with the heaviness of these times will be grateful for your attention. A neighbor will be glad to see you wave.
Send that text, email, or even a snail mail card.
You never know how much such a simple thing might mean to someone. While my church was exclusively online during our state shutdown earlier this year, my pastor’s wife mailed cards to kids in our church. “All of us adults can text or call,” she told me later. “I thought the kids might be missing people from church, too.”
Share truth, even with just one person.
A couple weeks ago, Focus on the Family’s See Life 2020 event streamed on YouTube and Facebook. Sharing a video or a link to our Facebook feed is a little thing. But the pro-life fight is full of small victories, and who knows what could be the impact of our small light?
Ask God to show you who to talk to or reach out to. We don’t know who is struggling, and those who seem the most put-together may be more discouraged than we realize.
Get together with a friend or even someone you don’t know as well. Listen to them. Pray for them — with them.
Many little lights
Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse and the George Washington Bridge — the real-life inspirations for the children’s book, stand side-by-side in New York City. The story goes that in the 1940s, the little red lighthouse was slated for demolition and scrap metal sale, but letters poured in, largely from children who had read the book. They begged authorities to save the little red lighthouse.
And it worked. The little red lighthouse, though no longer active, still stands next to the great gray bridge.
My light is certainly a little light. Maybe your light is little, too. But even a little light is a light. And who knows? With all our little lights joined together, like that army of story-loving children, we just might shine brighter than we ever would have guessed.
*All excerpts from “The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge” by Hildegard Swift and Lynd Ward, 1942.
Copyright 2020 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.